Harbinger of the Storm (Angry Robot) Paperback – 12 Jan 2011
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A gripping mystery steeped in blood and ancient Aztec magic. I was enthralled.A" - Sean Williams
About the Author
ALIETTE DE BODARD is a writer and computer specialist whose short fiction has already earned her a John W. Campbell Award nomination, for best newcomer. Living in Paris, Aliette is French, of Vietnamese extraction, but she writes exclusively in English. www.aliettedebodard.com
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This is the second book in a series and I highly recommend reading Servant of the Underworld first.
I found the beginning of the first book a little too slow and hard to get into for my liking, but I was right there in the story from the first page of Harbinger. The main protagonist Acatl is the reluctant high priest of the dead and is part of a triumvirate of religious leader that advise the leaders of the Mexica empire. I thought about writing down more place names and character names in this review, but even though they have been shortened to enable easier reading they are still difficult to get your head around out of context. The politics and intrigue at court are anathema to Acatl and the one part of his job that he dislikes. The plot starts with the death of the Revered Speaker the ruler of the Triple Alliance. Add to that a supernatural plot that threatens to destroy the world and you start to get an idea of how difficult the job of finding the killers and saving the empire will be.
I am a simple man and usually like things quite simple, and lots of dialogue in my fiction. I shouldn't really like this book as there are a lot of big sections with little or no dialogue. It works though. The descriptions are simple and never seem too long, the dialogue always adds value, and the plot flows nicely. I didn't work out what was going on until I was told and this added to my enjoyment. I particularly love the way the capricious nature of the gods is portrayed.
If you want to read crime fiction in an interesting and vibrant historic setting this book will be right up your street. I am eager to reading the third book in this series, and will be downloading it as soon as I can.
When the Revered Speaker dies - of natural causes as it was mentioned that he was ill in the previous book - the palace is thrown into an uproar. It should be simple, Tizoc has already been named heir, but the council has to ratify this and in the meantime with the deceased Speaker still not buried and Tizoc's place not confirmed Tenochtitlan is vulnerable to star demons and all manner of other supernatural threats. Only the confirmation of a new Revered Speaker can save them because the Speaker channels the power of the god Huitzilpochtli (the sun god) to protect the fifth world (this one).
If it were only political wranglings it wouldn't be so bad but someone is summoning star demons from inside the palace's protected precincts to kill council members - messily - and Acatl is trying to unravel the mystery, find the culprit and stop him (or her) without the help of the high priests of the other major gods - since they seem to be too busy sticking their oars into the political pool.
As with all good mysteries there are a number of suspects, all with motive and means, but when these are eliminated one by one, all that remains is the unthinkable.
Tizoc has no love for either Acatl or his sister and he's acting as though he's already wearing the turquoise, so even his brother Teomitl has to watch his step - not Teomitl's strong suit.
It's all change in Tenochtitlan. Acatl is involved whether he likes it or not and it may be that he has to solicit the help of a god to sort things out. Unfortunately not his own god.
This is that difficult middle novel of a trilogy but Ms de Bodard doesn't let the pace drop. Characterisation is excellent, but it's the setting that makes this trilogy stand out. The world is perfectly painted and as historically accurate as it can be - given that the magic is depicted as real and physical. The setting encompasses details both large and small, from the descriptions of Tenochtitlan - a world without metal technology (hence the fragile but obscenely sharp obsidian knives) - to the tiny details of eating newts. Sacrifices, animal and human, are a fact of everyday life and are all that keep the gods and Mother Earth appeased.
I've more or less overcome the strangeness of the Aztec names which provided speedbumps to a smooth story in the first book and I've started to recognise them as visual words - but I'd hate to have to pronounce them. I take my hat off to Ms de Bodard if she does readings from these books.